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Stewart leads UConn to NCAA championship

C-NS grad is Most Outstanding Player at Final Four

Connecticut's Breanna Stewart goes up for a rebound in Tuesday night's NCAA championship game in New Orleans. Stewart, a Cicero-North Syracuse graduate, was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player as the Huskies beat Notre Dame and Louisville to capture its eighth national title.

Connecticut's Breanna Stewart goes up for a rebound in Tuesday night's NCAA championship game in New Orleans. Stewart, a Cicero-North Syracuse graduate, was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player as the Huskies beat Notre Dame and Louisville to capture its eighth national title. Steve Slade

From Cicero-North Syracuse to Connecticut to the crown jewel of women's college basketball, Breanna Stewart has taken a long and sometimes laborious journey through the last 12 months.

But it ended with Stewart as the primary driving force of a Huskies team winning a record-tying eighth NCAA championship Tuesday night in New Orleans, smashing Louisville 93-60 in the national title game.

When she went to UConn, Stewart was the nation's top-ranked freshman, having garnered every national individual Player-of-the-Year award as she led C-NS to the 2012 state and Federation Class AA titles. Expectations that she would top the top players in Huskies history, like Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi, were offered by head coach Geno Auriemma.

In Storrs, Stewart began well, but went through a prolonged mid-season slump that saw her pulled from the starting lineup by Auriemma. It reached a point where, when UConn beat Louisville 72-58 in their regular-season encounter Jan. 15 in Hartford, Stewart did not even play.

Gradually, Stewart regained her confidence and returned to the rotation, though Auriemma said it took two months. By the post-season, she was back in the starting lineup as the Huskies entered the NCAA Tournament as a no. 1 seed in the Bridgeport regional.

Easy wins over Idaho (105-37) and Vanderbilt (77-44) in the first two rounds sent UConn to the Sweet 16. Then, in the regional semifinal on March 30, Stewart really began to warm up with 17 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and three steals during the Huskies' 76-50 win over the Terrapins.

A day later, the entire tournament's character changed. Baylor, the defending champions and overwhelming favorite to win it all again, were stunned by Louisville in the Oklahoma City regional semifinal. This gave everyone else new life - including UConn, who would take full advantage.

In the Bridgeport regional final against Kentucky on April 1, Stewart upped her total to 21 points, adding four rebounds and three blocks and garnering regional Most Outstanding Player honors in UConn's 83-53 romp.

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